View from Loweswater End
The view east from Loweswater End. Mellbreak behind the sheep, then Crummock Water and the North-Western fells.

Date: 24th May 2023.

Weather conditions: The Late May Fine Period has arrived this year (which it didn’t do last year). However, I seemed to be walking in the only part of England that had cloud today. Even as far west as Keswick everything was enjoying constant sunshine, but not West Cumberland. However, I didn’t really care, as the walking conditions were good anyway.

Summits bagged: Only one Wainwright today, namely Burnbank Fell (1558 feet above sea level, number 309 of my second round), although Blake Fell could be added to the walk with minimal extra effort. I first bagged Burnbank Fell (and Blake) on walk 37, in June 2011.

Sharp Knott and cottongrass
Sharp Knott, one of today’s Birketts (and a lot of cottongrass)

Today was more of a Birkett-bagging walk, with four crossed off this additional list, the first three of which are all higher than Burnbank: Loweswater End (1703’, number 311 on this list by altitude); Carling Knott (1785’, #277: the highest point of the walk), Sharp Knott (1581’, #365) and Owsen Fell (1342’, #444).

Start and finish point: Started and finished in Waterend, just west of Loweswater, specifically at the roadside car park by the phone box, grid reference NY118225.

This point cannot be reached by public transport, so I used the car today. It is possible to reach this area by bus if you are willing to get to Lanthwaite Green on the (summer only) Keswick/Buttermere/Honister service, then walking from there, but doing that in both directions would add, I reckon, at least 1¼ hours (as I did it, today took me 3¾ hours including the lunch break). And, when I tried that approach on walk 37 I see that it led me to lay down a rant, of several hundred words, about the iniquities of it all. So I spared myself all this today. Driving in along the A66 to Cockermouth then reaching Waterend from the west took me 3 hours from home in West Yorkshire, thus 6 hours driving time on the day.

Orange tip butterfly
Local fauna. Not a mountain but what the hell.

Distance walked: 7½ miles approximately.

Total ascent: 1,730 feet approx.

Pub at end: Nothing at the terminus. The very good Kirkstile Inn is about a mile and a half away, but with regret, I gave it a miss.

I did have a beer today, before rejoining the motorway, but it was such a terrible one that I am going to spare the pub’s blushes and not name it — all I will say was that it was somewhere on the A6 between Penrith and junction 39.

Loweswater sheep portrait
Near the start of the walk: Loweswater, Mellbreak again, more fauna.

Route: This is mostly a good walk. Once you have made it up the slope of Loweswater End, the rest is easy. There are some pathless sections, but these are not too troublesome. Neither bog nor (except for one very brief section near the end) bracken are a factor. Views into Lakeland are not very extensive — you don’t really see any farther than Honister — but they are still highly attractive, and the panorama of the coastal plain is very fine. The one problem with it is the current state of certain parts of Holme Wood, which has been wrecked by forestry operations: see the notes to come, and the commentary.

From the car park, take the path signposted ‘Hudson Place’. When that comes to a lane, turn left, then left again once the farm is reached. Enjoy the day’s one shoreline view of Loweswater, then enter Holme Wood.

Felling damage in Holme Wood
Woodland ‘management’ in Holme Wood. Low Fell in the background.

From my previous visit here 12 years ago, I remember this as a sylvan place, with the added bonus of the cataract of Holme Force nestling in the middle. Getting up that far is no problem: turn right, then right again, and this takes you up a slope to the base of the falls. On walk 37 I tried taking the path that rises up beside them, but noted that this path came to a dead end and getting any further up was difficult. So today I decided instead to carry on along the forest road, aiming to slant up a path marked on the map, to reach the next goal — the clear and wide terrace path that runs above the wood.

All of this was, in practice, still possible. But it required climbing awkwardly over discarded tree trunks and up a track newly gouged by immense tyres, then being told to follow a diversion that added about ¾ mile (and zero visual appeal) to the journey. And it seems, in any case, I should not have been able to do it, as warning signs announcing “No Entry: Forest Operations” deterred entry to this area higher up — yet no warning sign was place on the track below the area of works. It’s a total mess. So perhaps it is worth just climbing up beside the falls, after all — better still maybe, don’t go through Holme Wood at all, and use my descent route in both directions.

Fellbarrow range
The Fellbarrow range from Loweswater End. Fellbarrow itself is the lump to top left.

Anyway, however you get on to the terrace, the key to the route is the valley of Holme Beck (which feeds the falls below). This splits Burnbank Fell from Loweswater End, which is steeply rising above (note that this is Birkett’s name for it: the OS map clearly labels it Carling Knott, but B. gives this name to the point at 544m, while Wainwright’s map keeps it ambiguous). Whatever it’s called, to ascend it, head up the left-hand side of Holme Beck as you look at it, where a reasonably clear path can be seen slanting up the slope. This goes up then through a gate, after which you may as well just climb straight up alongside the fence. This is a bit of a haul, but not overly long, and there is a good view at the top: Loweswater End has probably the best view of the Fellbarrow range, as pictured above.

After that the walking is all quite easy. Head along the ridge to bag (Birkett’s) Carling Knott, and then decide whether you want to go up Blake Fell, which I am sure would add no more than about 20 minutes to the day. If not, bear right before the slope kicks in, along a slight but definite path. You have to cross a fence, after which Sharp Knott, with its substantial cairn, is obvious ahead. From here, Burnbank Fell is hardly the most prominent of peaks but the path to it is fairly clear.

Burnbank Fell summit
Burnbank Fell summit cairn, with Blake Fell and Sharp Knott behind.

Owsen Fell, the fifth and final summit of the day, is probably for committed Birkett-baggers only, though the view is good and the walk there very easy. After doing it, I didn’t see the need to climb back to the top of Burnbank, and instead tried traversing around that fell’s north-west slope. There is no real path, though the occasional sheep trod does pop up, but the ground is not bad and you are back on the terrace path before it gets too tedious.

Be completely dissuaded from heading down through the woods, and just follow the path as it descends gently down towards the road, before looping back round past Iredale Place and Jenkinson Place and then back to the car.

Jenkinson Place and Loweswater
The final stretch, past Jenkinson Place and back to Loweswater. This time, Grasmoor is most prominent.

Forestry foulness commentary: The whole of Loweswater is the property of the National Trust, including Holme Wood, which is a beautiful forest, not managed for timber but, ostensibly, for its other values (aesthetics, recreation, wildlife habitat, etc). This means it’s not a monocultural pine wasteland but a diverse mixture of species, and generally the place makes a great contribution to the reasons why this particular little corner of Lakeland is worth preserving.

I understand that to keep forests in such a state of beauty and worth, active management is required. Storms bring down trees, as happened in Blengdale a couple of years ago (see walk 197). And pests or diseases need controlling. According to notice boards erected around the place, the particular problem facing Holme Wood is (or was) a fungal infestation of the larches. The National Trust say they are ‘acting on advice from the Forestry Commission’, and it is indeed one of the roles of that government body to work to maintain the health of the land they own or manage.

Owsen Fell
Owsen Fell, fifth and lowest summit of the day. The coastal plain behind.

I get all this, so go ahead, do what needs to be done to make sure that the health of the woodland as a whole is not threatened. But the mess that has been made of, at least, the upper-central portion of Holme Wood as a result is just inexcusable. Trees have been cut down, without much sign that very many of them have actually been removed. Huge trunks, of what were clearly mature specimens, lie about all over the place. And to get even that much done has led to the gouging of a huge scar up the side of the wood, left by the logging vehicles and their ten-foot tyres. Christ knows what it looks like from Low Fell across the lake.

This scar isn’t going to somehow magically repair itself, although I suppose it’s just about possible that at the end of the ‘project’ the contractors will come back and try to restore the old forest road to its former state (I am trying to give you the benefit of the doubt here, guys). But if they don’t, the only way the visual impact of the damage will ever recede is through new growth, and we could be talking fifteen to twenty years, at least, before there’s enough of that to really make a difference.

Doggy couple on terrace path
Doggy couple on their way along the terrace path. (The dog on the right ran back 100 yards to check me out after I took this shot.)

The forest was silent today: the “Operations” that signs warned me about (except when they needed to) were not active ones. Possibly I just came through on a random Wednesday off, but the lack of vehicles or other evidence (e.g. sawdust, piles of cut logs) suggest that there’s no immediate intention to clear up any of this crap.

And I suppose here’s the root of why this winds me up. If utilities companies need to fix something, and their doing so is going to cause disruption to a traffic route, or some other access problem, then it’s right and proper that they should arrange to get it done in one go, and as quickly as they can manage. Do the work and tidy up after yourself then, rather than leaving the disruption and damage in place for a few weeks or months, until you can be bothered to come back and clear it up — if you ever do. Sadly what’s happened here is a case of the work getting done but no one ever really giving a shit about how it was done, or about minimising the impact on what, after all, are just a few smelly walkers and a handful of local residents and naturalists who might care. Land Management — the Whitehall Way.

Cow and pasture
The pastures on the very edge of Lakeland.

Enough. Apart from that, this is a decent, unstrenuous walk, and evidence that you can go right to the peripheries of Lakeland and still find much of value. Wainwright-wise I reckon I now have 10-11 walks to go (the difference being whether I combine Esk Pike and Great End into a single expedition, or keep them separate). I intend to spend at least a two-day period in June bagging some more of the ones in the West, so let’s cross fingers for the weather.

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